PTC’s Vuforia Brings Augmented Reality to Maintenance and Training
John Hayes posted on July 23, 2018 |
Augmented reality for maintenance and repair operations isn't new, but high quality headsets greatly...

The idea of using augmented reality (AR) to improve maintenance and repair operations is not new. However, with the general availability of high quality headsets, the experience has improved greatly over viewing an AR experience on an iPhone or iPad.

Two years ago, Jay Wright, then President of Vuforia, acknowledged that using an iPad was not ideal, saying, “We see a device on your head as being superior to a device in your hands.” 

Following the steps to change an oil filter as viewed through an AR headset.
Following the steps to change an oil filter as viewed through an AR headset.

In 2018, not only are the headsets better. So is the process of publishing an AR experience. A lot of the friction has been removed such that publishing AR experiences is now reasonably accessible to product teams.

In this post I’ll cover two use cases: i) AR for Maintenance and ii) AR for training.

Augmented Reality in Field Maintenance

One of the biggest hurdles to implementing AR has been the challenge of publishing. Vuforia Studio makes that much easier

(Video courtesy of PTC.)

The video above shows the steps required to publish an AR experience using Vuforia Studio. In this case, the AR experience shows a user how to change an oil filter on a Caterpillar generator. I tried this experience myself and navigated through all ten steps with no errors and no instruction, so can attest to the AR experience being easy to understand and use.

The steps to publishing an experience as set out in the video are:

  1. Creating the project space
  2. Selecting whether the AR will be viewed with a headset or through a mobile device
  3. Adding in the requisite CAD model. The video demo assumes that you have already saved the CAD geometry into Vuforia Studio.
  4. Setting the orientation and tracking position
  5. Setting the animation controls
  6. Attaching voice and gesture commands
  7. Placing the instructional overlays
  8. Setting the AR experience within a sequence

You’ll see what the output looks like beginning at around 1:55 in the video, which is the view of a user wearing a Hololens headset.

The 2018 publishing process marks a significant improvement to the process of publishing to AR a couple of years ago. In 2016, Vuforia required that users place a “Thingmark” in every instance. That artefact was formerly required to anchor your model to a physical space. Now that Vuforia recognizes CAD geometry, you need now only use the Thingmark in cases where you want to recognize a specific variant. Once you have published the AR experience, it is instantly available on all supported devices. You may not be as fast as the 2 minute video would suggest, but the process of authoring and publishing has been greatly simplified.

Augmented Reality for Training- Capturing Work Instructions with Waypoint

PTC recently demonstrated a way to use AR to deliver just-in-time information to a technician in the field, in this case working on a blood analyzer.

PTC was showcasing the training capabilities of their Waypoint technology, a prototype product that is intended to dramatically improve the ease and accuracy of authoring work instructions. In this video below, an expert worker dons an AR headset and then goes through a series of work steps that she wants to record. These work steps can then be shared with trainees to ensure that they get the process right.

AR experience showing text instructions overlaid with video using PTC Waypoint.
AR experience showing text instructions overlaid with video using PTC Waypoint.

As you watch the video you will note that Waypoint works within the users physical workspace (in this case a laboratory) rather than through a computer screen, capturing imagery as the expert moves through the sequence and voice instructions from the expert as she says them aloud. This results in a highly accurate capture of the expert’s work, because the expert will capture every step, including some that might have been missed had she been working from memory alone.

Waypoint has a desktop editor to post-process the instructions. For example, our expert might want to update the text instructions, extract better images, etc before publishing.

With AR instructions, the trainee can wear a headset that will guide them to each location of the steps in the process, and also tell them what to do at each step. 

Next Steps for PTC’s Vuforia

Both of these applications, Vuforia Studio and Waypoint, are aimed at making the publishing of AR experiences easier. That is because, according to PTC, “apart from digital eyewear readiness, the single largest barrier to AR adoption is cost and effort of creating content.”

Jim Heppelmann, PTC’s CEO said that PTC’s AR business represents $20M in revenue and is growing at 100%. He also pointed out that PTC is aligning all of their AR technologies under the Vuforia brand.

This brand consolidation will be helpful to customers since PTC has developed or acquired a wide range of AR functionality. The product line now includes:

  • Vuforia Engine – for developers to allow their applications to incorporate AR
  • Vuforia Studio – allows content creation and publishing, for example from CAD models
  • Vuforia Chalk – allows remote users to see what the on-site users see through their headset

Beyond maintenance and training, AR also has compelling use cases for design reviews (especially with remote teams) and visualization, particularly with large assemblies that are best viewed at 1:1 scale. Given the falling prices of headsets and the improved publishing process from CAD models, we expect that virtually all product design teams will have experimented with AR or VR by the end of 2019.

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